Bibio - Silver Wilkinson
It's safe to say that Stephen Wilkinson's last outing wasn't received as warmly as he might have hoped. I'm all for pushing the boat out, but at the same time, there's going too far; Wilkinson opted for a more eclectic approach on Mind Bokeh two years ago; it was a risky move, and it didn't pay off too well. Indeed, from what I gather, the predecessor to Silver Wilkinson hasn't aged very well at all. I suppose that's to be expected when you alienate your core fanbase. Its follow-up is much more like it - it's still definitely Bibio, but something's changed. He could have doubled down and delivered something he knew people wanted to hear, but he's never been one to repeat himself for the sake of it. The warm ambience and acoustic wistfulness of opener 'The First Daffodils' suggests that we're back in familiar territory, but there are some unexpectedly immediate moments on the album, too.
Those who noted that he had a track featured on a Kindle ad ('Lovers' Carvings') might have been fearing that he'd go down the straight-up pop route, but there are no such departures here; the poppier moments usually come with an extra dash of folk (exhibit A: current single 'À tout à l'heure'), and the instrumental pieces are much more low-key than we heard from Wilkinson last time out; Silver Wilkinson (does that title mean I can call this Bibio's semi-self-titled?) is very much a headphones album, focusing more on texture and layered melodies than anything else, though he does go widescreen on 'You' - and knocks it out of the park, might I add - with cut-up vocal samples, big beats and a colossal chorus contributing to the most infectious moment on the album. There's also a wholly unexpected downbeat coda thrown in for good measure. He's gotten away with much more than that in the past, so it's nice to hear him reining himself back in - at least to an extent.
I wouldn't call this a return to form as much as a reassertion of what made Wilkinson's output great in the first place. When Mind Bokeh was good, it was great; it never fully clicked for me (and it was my introduction to his work - cue the discovery of Ambivalence Avenue and falling in love with it), but this is much more like it. There are some breathtakingly beautiful tracks on Silver Wilkinson, particularly towards its finale (the one-two punch of 'Look at Orion!' and 'Business Park' is as good as you're going to get as regards to this style of music this year), familiar enough to suggest that the producer has gone back to his roots, and different enough to suggest that Wilkinson's not going to be resting on his laurels any time soon. With his seventh album in eight years, Bibio's still going strong - maybe next time, he'll go for gold.